Careers in the culinary arts can be highly profitable and enjoyable, and one of the most illustrious positions in the kitchen is that of the head chef.
They are the head of the kitchen and are in charge of all kitchen operations.
- What is a Head Chef?
- Work Opportunities in the Head Chef Industry
- What It’s Like to be a Head Chef
- Head Chef Salary & Income
- Overview of the Head Chef Industry
- Career Progression
- Requirements, Skills, and Education Required for Head Chefs
- Who Should Consider a Head Chef Career Path?
- Who Should NOT Consider a Head Chef Career Path?
- Is it Hard to Become a Head Chef?
- What Do I Need to Become a Head Chef?
- Requirements for Becoming a Head Chef
- What Skills Does a Head Chef Need?
- What Education Does a Head Chef Need?
- Can You Become a Head Chef Without a Degree?
- What Experience Does a Head Chef Need?
- Head Chef Education & Schooling
- Steps to Become a Head Chef
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Wrapping Up
What is a Head Chef?
The head chef is the chef to which all other chefs and porters report in the kitchen brigade.
They have many responsibilities and duties before, during, and even after kitchen service.
What is a Head Chef Called?
The head chef may be known by a few different titles.
They may be called the chef de cuisine in locations that use French nomenclature, and they may also be called the executive chef, or simply head cook.
Executive chef is a term seen most often in high-end establishments, or those that cater to international audiences.
What Does a Head Chef Do?
The head chef is responsible for all kitchen activities.
They will generally be in charge of creating the menu, designing the plating for new dishes, managing the operations of the kitchen brigade, purchasing and ordering stock as the kitchen needs it, managing the kitchen budget, and of course, being the head cook.
Work Opportunities in the Head Chef Industry
Head Chef Job Description
The head chef is a very highly skilled culinary professional who is charged with overseeing all operations of a particular kitchen.
They are the party solely responsible for the food that leaves the kitchen, from designing the menu, to preparing, plating, and serving.
They often have an extensive kitchen history behind them, as well as education from either college courses or specialized culinary schools.
Top Head Chef Jobs and Careers
- Hotel Executive Chef
- Residential Facility Head Chef
- Restaurant Owner
Where Can a Head Chef Work?
Properly skilled and qualified head cooks can run just about any kitchen they set foot in.
They can find work in hospitals, senior living centers, upscale restaurants, diners, hotels, resorts, educational facilities, and more.
Current Career Job Openings
If you are looking for openings in the culinary or hospitality sector, here are some of the current opportunities.
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What It’s Like to be a Head Chef
Is Being a Head Chef Hard?
Being a head chef is a very difficult position.
It requires constant attention to detail, as well as a long list of daily duties and responsibilities.
Additionally, it is a career that involves a lot of skills and kitchen experience.
It is not generally possible to become a head chef without first working one’s way up the ranks of the kitchen personnel.
Is a Head Chef Job Stressful?
A job as a head chef is incredibly stressful.
Not only does the head chef perform all of the inventory, ordering, purchasing, and budgeting for a kitchen, but they also manage the entire kitchen staff, and are personally responsible for the quality of every single item that leaves the kitchen.
They must ensure that customer dishes are cooked properly and delivered tableside promptly, for every customer during the service period.
Common Head Chef Work Day
A head chef has a long, busy day ahead of them every day that they work.
Their day will usually begin with morning inventory, and accepting shipments and deliveries of the day’s fresh ingredients.
They count produce, check for quality, then store and label them appropriately.
The next part of the day is spent on the mise en place, meaning all preparation and cleaning before the day’s first service.
This also includes starting sauces, and soups, and portioning various cuts of meat.
The kitchen porters and sous chef will assist, but ultimately the head chef is responsible for the results.
Depending on the establishment, there may be a lunch service, as well as dinner service.
If there is no lunch service, the head chef may attend to other business before the dinner service begins.
Before dinner, there will be more preparation work.
Following dinner service, there will be a final inventory and ordering for the next day.
Head Chef Tasks & Duties
The head chef is responsible for inventory, ordering, budgeting, planning the menu, cooking and plating all food, and managing all kitchen staff.
They are also responsible for hiring prep cooks and other chefs and ensuring all food safety measures are adhered to.
Head Chef Work Hours & Schedule
The head chef job requires consistently long and stressful hours.
Every day that the kitchen will be in service will have a long schedule for the head chef, as they will be there from open to close.
Head Chef Dress Code
The dress code for a head chef will be chef whites.
This is a white chef’s jacket and hat, and in some cases, white or black pants as well, depending on the dress code of the establishment.
Does This Career Field Embrace Work/Life Balance?
The career of a head chef does not embrace a significant work/life balance.
As a head chef, you will have a significant portion of your life taken up by running the kitchen for the establishment that employs you, and the success of that kitchen will be a source of both professional and personal pride.
There may be periods where the head chef can take a vacation, but those periods will be rare.
Head Chef Salary & Income
Head chefs make very good money compared to other cooking jobs, like line cook.
The trade-off, however, is that becoming a head chef also takes considerable effort and industry experience.
How Much Do Head Chefs Make?
The median pay for head chef positions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is about $50,160.
There is some significant variance between the lowest and highest paid head chefs though, with the lowest-paid earning approximately $30,910, and the highest-paid earning an average of $84,570.
The highest-earning positions were commonly seen in the amusement, gambling, and recreation industries.
Overview of the Head Chef Industry
The career progression to the eventual position of a head chef can take many years and will require a college degree or specialized culinary arts schooling in most cases.
It will also require that you start near the bottom of the kitchen brigade and work your way up through a series of increasingly complex positions.
Is a Head Chef a Good Career?
If you have what it takes to get to the position of head chef, it can become an incredible career.
It is often the peak position that an aspiring chef hopes to reach.
Head Chef Job Outlook
The job outlook for head chef jobs is more than triple the projected average growth for all other occupations in the nation.
The head chef position is expected to produce 25% growth between 2020 and 2030, with the total for all occupations only being 8%.
Much of this growth is expected a result from the easing of post-pandemic restrictions and the rebound of the entertainment and hospitality industries.
Demand for Head Chef
The demand for head chef positions is steady, and it’s reliable.
There are no kitchens in which someone is not in charge, and that person is essentially the head chef, whether it’s their formal job title or not.
This means every restaurant, school, hotel, casino, or even food truck or pop-up restaurant will have its own.
Head Chef Facts
- Head chefs maintain an enormous wealth of culinary knowledge from around the world
- Head chefs are incredibly passionate about their work
- There are equal parts science and art to becoming a head chef, you need to be able to have technical proficiency in preparation, but you also need to be able to plate a dish in a way that’s pleasing to the eye
- Every head chef will have a favorite knife, and they will not share that knife
- The head chef generally recommends specials based on their favorite dish, not to move stock
- A good head chef will be receptive to constructive criticism
- Most head chefs are allowed to have complete creative freedom over the menu items
Jobs Related to Head Chef
There is plenty of lateral advancement for head chefs, and if one position doesn’t work out, there are plenty more to choose from.
Many head chefs eventually open their own restaurants.
This ensures they have complete creative control over the menu, decor, and all other aspects of the facility.
In some cases, they work with a silent investment partner.
Executive Head Chef
A head chef with extensive experience can eventually progress to owning several of their own restaurants, or working as head chef for several kitchens owned by the same corporate entity.
Requirements, Skills, and Education Required for Head Chefs
Who Should Consider a Head Chef Career Path?
People with an intense passion for culinary service should consider becoming head chefs, as well as those who can make time for the needed education and experience.
Who Should NOT Consider a Head Chef Career Path?
Individuals who aren’t suited to working long hours most days of the week, who aren’t capable of impeccable cleanliness, or are inconsistent with their quality of work are not suited to the career of head chef.
Is it Hard to Become a Head Chef?
It is reasonably difficult to become a head chef, as it takes significant education, experience, and dedication.
What Do I Need to Become a Head Chef?
To become a head chef you will need not only technical proficiency and educational credentials, but you’ll need food service certification, significant creativity, and work experience in business and kitchen operations.
Requirements for Becoming a Head Chef
Among the requirements for becoming a head, a chef is food safety certification, a culinary degree, and extensive kitchen experience.
What Skills Does a Head Chef Need?
A head chef will require excellent culinary skills, management, and inventory skills, supervisory skills, math skills, and customer service skills.
What Education Does a Head Chef Need?
A head chef will need a culinary arts degree from either a traditional college or a specialty culinary academy.
Can You Become a Head Chef Without a Degree?
In nearly all cases, you will need a culinary arts degree.
What Experience Does a Head Chef Need?
The primary sources of experience that a head chef will need, are apprenticeship programs that can be 1,000, 4,000, or even 6,000 hours.
Head Chef Education & Schooling
Head Chef Education & Schooling
The primary schooling needed to become a head chef is a culinary arts degree.
What is Taught in a Head Chef Course?
There is a lot that can be taught in culinary school.
There is food history, chemistry, and the practical and technical skills to operate efficiently and effectively in a kitchen.
How Long Does a Head Chef Course Take?
Depending on the course and degree that is sought, the schooling needed for the head chef position can take just a few months, or it can take 4-5 years.
It will also depend on what additional schooling the applicant has already completed.
Schools for Head Chefs
Many people earn their culinary arts degrees from local, state, or private colleges.
Others enroll in specialty schools like le Cordon Bleu to earn their degree.
Steps to Become a Head Chef
The biggest hurdle to becoming a head chef is obtaining a culinary degree.
This is formal training from either a culinary arts school or a college, that provides the needed practical and technical skills to advance through the chef ranks.
Once that degree is finished, an apprenticeship under a head chef is ideal and will help gain the needed kitchen experience.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Gordon Ramsay a Head Chef?
Gordon Ramsay is, among many other things, considered an Executive Head Chef.
This means that he holds the head chef position for multiple kitchens, and he performs the head chef duties for all of them.
What is the highest rank of chef?
The highest rank of chef in the kitchen brigade is the head chef or executive chef.
The only position higher would be considered executive head chef, which is where one person maintains head chef responsibilities for more than one kitchen.
For those that love the culinary arts, becoming a head chef is often their goal.
If you have kitchen experience and the right drive, attention to detail, and management skills, it just might be the right career for you.
Most head chefs regard their job as intensely fulfilling, and financially rewarding as well.